Airlines – No bags fly free


Last week Spirit Airlines announced new fees to go into effect in August that will result in passengers paying a fee to bring a carry-on bag on board.

Link to USA Today article

In brief, for a carry-on bag Spirit will charge $20 (for its $9 Fare Club members), $30 for non-club members who plan ahead, and $45 at the gate. The fee doesn’t apply to a small bag or laptop that can fit underneath the seat or to other small personal items such a jackets, umbrellas, etc. that go easily in the overhead bins.

Link to Spirit Airlines carry-on bag policy

These fees are in addition to the airline’s fees for checked luggage which run $15/$25/$45 based on the same criteria outlined in the last paragraph.

Spirit barely flies to the West with service to LAX and Las Vegas from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (its main hub) and from its mini-hub in Detroit.

Most readers of this blog will never fly the carrier but you can be sure its move on carry-on bags will be watched carefully by other airlines.

My first reaction when I read about their move was “no way!” When will it end? Maybe Nude Air’s time has come where you pay extra to bring anything other than your body.

Many others, including no less than Roy LaHood, the U.S. Transportation Secretary expressed incredulity and outrage with the airline’s plan.

Spirit left itself plenty of wiggle room by setting an effective date of 1 August for the fee, but even if they end up retracting the fees they will have done the traveling public a favor by raising the issue.

Been on a plane lately?

It’s a mess.

Because all carriers except Southwest (first two bags free) and jetBlue (first bag free) charge fees for checked luggage, more people than ever are bringing the wheely-type suitcases on board to avoid paying fees.

And truthfully this trend was only amplified by the imposition of bag fees. For many years travelers – especially business travelers – have been bringing this type of bag on board in order to skip the visit to the baggage carousel to pick up a suitcase upon arrival.

But bag fees have made the problem much worse and resulted in frayed tempers between passengers, between passengers and airline gate agents, and between passengers and flight attendants. Not to mention delayed flights when there is no place to put a carry-on bag and bags have to be gate-checked and go into the belly of the plane.

Except for a laptop or a knapsack, I’ve never been one to bring a suitcase on board a plane, whether or not there was a fee to check a bag. I find traveling encumbered like that miserable. Yes, it requires more time to check the bag and pick it up at my destination but if I can cross the U.S. in 6 hours I figure that’s already saving me plenty of time. Being able to move without a suitcase through security, airport stores and restaurants, and the planes themselves makes the already dismal flying experience a little more bearable for me.

Frankly I wish more people traveled like I did. It would be a lot more pleasant.

I don’t love Spirit’s plan. I agree with its detractors that they are doing this simply to nickel-and-dime their passengers in yet another way. Spirit claims that it is just letting passengers choose to pay for the services they use, but come on! How many airline passengers travel without any suitcase, whether checked or in the overhead bin. Hardly anyone.

But if Southwest, an airline I’ve come to admire a lot over the years, imposed some kind of fee for a carry-on bag while keeping the price to check at least one bag at $0 I would not object at all. Passengers would retain the option of checking luggage for free, but would have to pay if they wanted to carry on a bag.

Because there would be an incentive to check bags instead of carry them on, the number of bags in the overhead bins would surely decline, making it much easier for those passengers who did elect to pay the carry-on fee to find space in an overhead bin.

As is the case now for checked luggage on most carriers, Southwest or any other airline charging fees for carry-on bags could waive fees for elite members of their loyalty programs, and reduce the fee for those who plan ahead and prepay the carry-on fee.

I don’t care for Spirit’s phony-baloney rationale but I’m glad their plan raised the issue. Maybe another airline – maybe even Spirit – can propose a better policy that clears the aisles and makes air travel less dreary for all travelers.

For the record, Ryanair, the nickel-and-dime airline supreme in Europe, announced plans the very next day after Spirit’s carry-on policy to install pay toilets requiring 1 or 1 to use. It gives new meaning to the term “Hold everything!”

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